Wales Weekend of Magic 2018

Wales Weekend of Magic 2018

I have been a judge for almost five years. I certified as an L1 during a Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Born of the Gods in October 2013. I worked at several old PTQs, including a team lead role, before making L2 in July 2014. Following promotion to L2, Wizards of the Coast Organised Play moved to the current PPTQ model and so I started running those locally (I was the only L2 in Wales at this point). I also started attending GPs as a floor judge and worked my way up to being given side events to head judge at GP Liverpool and GP Utrecht in 2015. It is worth remembering that side events at GPs were all competitive REL at this point and being given head judge responsibilities was a bigger deal than perhaps it is today, although side events at GPs can be much more demanding now. In September of 2015, I was awarded the head judge role at one of the Wales World Magic Cup Qualifiers. Since then I have gone on to head judge some big events both on the GP side event circuit, SCQ IQs, PPTQs with well over 100 players and now work at GPs essentially for a living.

You may be asking about why I am giving my judging resume and history lesson now and the simple reason is that my judging career hit its peak when I was asked to be the head judge for the second instalment of the reborn National Championship event in Wales, held in July 2018. Nationals are a big deal, both for older players who remember the events before they were dropped from the organised play schedule over six years ago and to new players who connect more with the idea of a single National Championship to select the team to represent their country at the World Magic Cup than the old WMCQ system.

I was involved in Welsh Nationals last year in a supporting role and loved every second of the event. The event is a tricky logistical challenge due to being mixed format and also included a lot of moving parts both in terms of physical logistics and people. When the organiser contacted me to offer the head judge role I was both delighted, and terrified, to accept.

One of my favourite things to do as a head judge or tournament organiser is selecting the team for events. It is not an easy job as you will inevitably disappoint people because there are always more qualified applicants than slots. However, the puzzle of building the right combination of skills, experience, opportunity, enthusiasm and personality whilst minding budget, development and applicant request constraints is something I find incredibly fulfilling. We picked an incredibly strong team for Nationals 2018, which was a huge source of confidence for me as we went about planning and executing our challenging programme.

Nationals in Wales is more than just the National Championship. Wales has a passionate but small qualified list of players and we really wanted this to feel like a celebration of Magic in Wales. With this in mind, the store responsible for running the event (my old Friendly Local Game Store), Firestorm Games, always puts on a slew of exciting and well funded side events culminating in the Firestorm Cup. Overall, we tend to see well over 100 players per day over the weekend including many who travel a long way. This means running a smooth, enjoyable and fair series of tournaments is fundamental to our approach.

The wonderful judge team for Wales National Championship 2018. Photo courtesy of South Wales Gaming Centre.

Following the staff selection for the weekend and the general planning and preparations my focus turned to the event itself. As I mentioned recently my recent shift to admin staff at GPs and leaving Cardiff has led to a reduction in opportunities to actually act as a judge at Magic events and whilst I had a lot of confidence in my ability to manage the people and logistics of the event I was less sure of my rules and policy levels. A huge part of my personal preparation for the event was me revising almost the entire policy document library and revisiting a lot of rules primers and articles. I pushed myself to get involved in rules and policy conversations on the UKISA discord and picked up a couple of new judge mentees to shake off some of the rust. I also chose to play some competitive events to get a player perspective too.

The weekend of the event itself was a bit of a blur to be honest. It kicked off with a five hour drive to Cardiff, via Stockport, to get to Firestorm Games in time for some final preparation on the Friday night. I was lucky enough to be able to stay with a good friend of mine and his partner for the weekend which I think adds a lot to an event. I stay in a lot of hotels as part of my GP travels and the warmth and energy of a real home is an amazing remedy to the exhaustion of long events.

Saturday was crunch day and I have to admit to having some butterflies when I arrived at the venue that morning. My round one being featuring a thirty minute time extension for an investigation did little to assuage those feelings. However, the day picked up and as the event progressed I started to get a really strong sense of accomplishment. Players were having fun, judges were engaged and grabbing the opportunity with both hands and the TO had yet to fire me for overrunning my schedule.

A lot of readers will expect to see a tournament report about the actual event at this stage. I have a love-hate relationship with tournament reports. I love good ones. The ones which capture a moment or a theme and develop an interesting narrative around it, ultimately teaching the reader something. I hate bad ones. The tournament reports which list number of players, timing of rounds and a list of penalties given out. My tournament report would be the latter. The tournament itself was a big (for Wales) PPTQ. Sure, it had some quirks due to being a mixed format event and some controversies because there was a lot on the line and some players lose sight of the fact that this a game we play for fun but nothing that would stand out on its own merits as a teachable moment. For me, the interesting elements are in the mindset and preparation.

Head judging large events is an exercise in stamina. The event starts days, weeks or even months before the Facebook event usually indicates. I am often asked by players why judges get paid as much as we do for what seems like a few hours of standing around reciting policy documents that are freely available online. My answer normally follows the line of ‘what were you doing this time last week?’ with them reciting some social or work activity and me quipping about how I was catching up on project work on Judge Apps, sending out briefing emails, mentoring the brand new L1 floor judge who was panicking about using the IPG for the first time or spending an extra few hours in the office so that I could leave at lunchtime on the Friday to drive 250 miles to be at this event on time. This isn’t a tirade about judge pay but my teachable moment from this event: judging is what you put into it. This event was the first time in a long time where I felt that the hours and hours of uncompensated, unrecognised effort I have put into my judge career paid off. My self review from this event is critical, I don’t know a judge’s self review that isn’t, but there is a lot of stuff that I am really happy about and putting in the hours of preparation on a personal level, beyond the event logistics and people management really made a difference.

A long and tiring day ended up with Sam Rolph defending his title as Wales National Champion and will captain the team going into the World Magic Cup later in 2018.

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